By Siyabonga Gema – HST Communications Officer
The start of the year can mean different things to different people. For most, it represents new beginnings – a brand new slate. While there are different ways to ensure that you start the year on the right note, a common view is that making the right health choices now, and sticking to them, is one of the best ways to start your year. The famous saying 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' may sound clichéd, but it is an excellent example of how one simple act can benefit your health in the future.
For many families, healthy choices are tied to their economic situations. This is especially true in South Africa, where the cost of living is on a continuous incline and many communities struggle to access basic services such as clean water. The World Health Organization (WHO) shared ten healthy choices to make in 2024, most of which are quite easy to achieve and maintain for most people. However, the reality is that for some, something as simple as following a healthy diet is the least of their worries when putting food on the table seems impossible.
Nutrition is arguably the biggest enabler of achieving positive health outcomes, which is why many governments globally focus on suppressing factors associated with malnutrition, especially among children. For developing countries with an increasing population, like South Africa, the stakes are much higher. According to Statistics South Africa, results indicate that, in 2021, of almost 17.9 million households, almost 80% (14.2 million) reported that they had adequate access to food, while 15% (2.6 million) and 6% (1.1 million) respectively stated that they had inadequate and severe inadequate access to food. Further to this, more than half a million (683 221) households with children aged five years or younger reported experiencing hunger in 2021. On the other hand, for those with adequate access to nutrition, obesity is on the rise. Obesity statistics in South Africa are concerning, as roughly 31% of men and 68% of women in the country are obese. Being overweight or obese can lead to a range of lifestyle diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
Whichever way you look at it, there is serious cause for concern when it comes to nutrition. A range of mitigating actions have been implemented, aimed at increasing awareness, educating the public on food safety, and providing access to food for those in need. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, the government developed The National Food and Nutrition Security Plan for South Africa; its main goal being to implement a priority set of actions to deliver significant improvements in food and nutrition status by 2023. One prime example is the establishment of the government's School Nutrition Programme, which feeds millions of children across the country and helps ensure they attend class regularly. The main objective of the programme is to provide nutritious meals to learners to improve their ability to learn. The programme also teaches learners and parents how to live a healthy lifestyle and promotes the development of school vegetable gardens.
Clearly, the benefits of achieving food security stretch far; for children of school-going age it means improved concentration at school, while for the working-class adults it means increased productivity, thereby increasing participation in the economy. So, if you're on the 'New Year, New Me' journey, perhaps your starting point should be doing thorough research on what nutritious choices to make for yourself. As the saying goes, 'you are what you eat'.
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